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Robert G. Moser, Chair BAT 2.116, Mailcode A1800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5121

Institutions, Culture, and Women’s Representation

Research highlights tensions between ethnic minority and women’s representation

Posted: December 15, 2009

Two Ph.D. candidates in the Department of Government, Stephanie Holmsten and Mary Slosar, along with Associate Professor Robert Moser, have had an article accepted for publication in Comparative Political Studies, a leading journal of comparative politics. “Do Ethnic Parties Exclude Women?” explains how electoral rules and descriptive representation interact such that, under certain circumstances, political parties that represent ethnic minorities are more likely than other types of political parties to exclude women.

The research redresses an oversight in scholarship that has analyzed female and minority representation in isolation of each other, subsuming both under arguments about social equality, and typically assuming that the same factors apply equally to both. For example, it is a standard assumption that proportional representation electoral systems, common in Europe, but absent in the United States, increase minority representation across the board. However, this research demonstrates that, actually, ethnic parties, particularly religious parties, in proportional representation systems elect fewer women than non-ethnic parties, while ethnic parties in single-member-district electoral systems behave like non-ethnic parties.

Holmsten, Moser, and Slosar compiled a dataset of 260 political parties in 21 countries, primarily from eastern and western Europe, but also including Canada, India, Israel, and Sri Lanka. The parties include religious, linguistic, regional, and ethnic minorities, and non-ethnic parties. On average, 15.2% of ethnic party deputies in the national legislature are women, compared to 18.7% of non-ethnic party deputies; 62.7% of ethnic parties exclude women altogether, compared to 29.7% of non-ethnic parties. However, the figures are especially staggering for religious parties, 84.6% of which exclude women altogether; of those religious parties that do not exclude women, on average, only 1.4% of their legislative deputies are women.

Further analysis demonstrates how much the results are driven by religious parties, proportional representation electoral institutions, and the absence of gender quotas. In proportional representation systems with no gender quotas, the probability of ethnic parties excluding women is more than 50%,
compared to 18% for non-ethnic parties. However, isolating religious parties makes ethnic parties behave similar to non-ethnic parties, as the probability of religious parties excluding women under the specified institutional conditions is 88%. Absent these two institutional conditions – proportional representation and no gender quotas – all types of parties represent women at similar rates. The authors hypothesize that religious parties are particularly egregious in terms of women’s representation because of conservative ideologies about the proper status of women in politics and society.

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